An Activity to Help Counselors Set Realistic Expectations — Pt. 1: The Circle of Power

This article was originally published on September 2nd, 2022 on MontCo.Today

By MaryJo Burchard, PhD

As a counselor, one of your greatest challenges is navigating the growing and sometimes conflicting expectations of administrators, students, and parents. While you may not be able to control the flow of expectations and demands on your time and energy, you’re not powerless in it.

The simple process below will help you categorize everything involved in your work based on your ability to control and make decisions that directly impact outcomes. This can help you prioritize those activities that you give time and attention to and identify the ones you can let go of.

The more effectively you can categorize everything, the greater clarity you’ll have in determining your course of action. Start by dividing everything you give your time and attention into three concentric circles:

  • Your Circle of Power: What you can directly control
  • Your Circle of Influence: What you do not control, but can support those who do
  • Your Circle of Concern: What concerns you and potentially impacts you directly, but you have no control over

Circle 1: The Circle of Power

The inner circle is reserved only for things you have direct decision-making power. Nothing can be included in this circle that relies on anyone else’s permission or external resources. Don’t dismiss things that may seem small or obvious. Be as granular as needed, to identify what you control. At minimum, you control yourself and your responses.

By naming and focusing on things within your control, you give yourself the same compassion and care you provide to students and clients, as well as the opportunity to create and enforce sustainable boundaries. As you narrow your focus on the things you control, it may be helpful to ask yourself whether you’re enforcing what is (and is not) in your Circle of Power – through communication, planning, or self-talk.

Identifying your Circle of Power is an important first step in this process. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where we will look at the second concentric circle by exploring your Circle of Influence.

About TLC

The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Founded in 1970 by a behavioral health hospital, TLC is an entrepreneurial nonprofit providing innovative education, coaching, and counseling services to individuals and families, as well as grant writing and management services for school districts and universities. TLC’s mission is to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting. To learn more, visit

About the Author

MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging.

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